New Normal

For a while those first few days of vacation, I didn’t know what to do with my phone or hands. 

I couldn’t check twitter. Couldn’t google that question that came to mind. Couldn’t color a picture first thing in the morning. Couldn’t snapchat my kids. Couldn’t mindlessly scroll instagram.

I couldn’t use my phone for anything at all but taking pictures. Slowly, my hands found they were relaxing their grip. So did my soul.

Burned

Truth is, I’ve been feeling on the cusp of burnout for a while. Pastoring through a pandemic is not the casual stroll some people seemed to think. (Oh, you don’t have to do anything but record a sermon. How great is that? You must have so much free time!)

Yep. Learning new technology, and having to change it every time we had a new iteration of church, was easy peasy. So was dealing with mental health crises in the community. Helping our little church cope in their own loneliness and fear. Working with people who couldn’t pay their rent. Purchasing our first church building and planning a major reno project on it. Not taking a Sunday off in over a year because you can zoom from anywhere and people needed me. 

The stuff of idle leisure, right?

And doing all this while never getting to hug my kids or even my husband, a man who spends all day in peoples’ respiratory systems, so not a good bet during COVID for immunocompromised me.

It was a lot. It was a lot for you, too. I know without asking that you went through and did a LOT. 

I don’t list those things for pity. I list them to explain why I, like a lot of you, teetered on the edge of wanting to chuck it all and move to New Zealand to become a hobbit village guide. (Still not a bad option. I’d consider it.) 

I was tired, cranky, physically weak, and weary to the bone of doing One. More. Thing.

So I went on our overdue, twice canceled trip of a lifetime last month with high hopes of rest and renewal.

I got those. It was the most glorious time of my life. Yet reentry created other problems I hadn’t anticipated. I’d planned for rest—but I’d put all my expectation on those two weeks. I’d assumed they would be a magical step away from reality that brought me back to earth somehow changed into a new me ready to take on anything in my path.

Pro tip: You cannot undo 14 months of overtime with two weeks of vacation. It does not correlate.

Sabbathing Well

I’d begun a sabbath with all the wrong beliefs about what it was for. Even though, given I’ve written and taught about sabbath as one of my favorite topics, I knew better. 

Sabbath isn’t meant to give us a rest from work or to bring us back to work ready to break new records.

Sabbath is intended to refresh us by rekindling our relationship with the One who knit together our souls. It’s meant to remind us that we done’t run the universe, and the world will turn on its axis without us giving it a nudge. 

I love Eugene Peterson’s work on this.

I hadn’t treated it like that.

Because I’m me, I crammed the time before and after our trip with ALL the things.

  • Of course I could send out an important, long email for a new group I was chairing.
  • Of course I could write the sermon for the day after we got back and deliver it even though we got into the airport AT 1AM Saturday.
  • Obviously, I could prep the June newsletter so it could go right out two days after we returned. (You know it didn’t.)
  • Clearly, I could run 25 errands, prep for a cat sitter, pack, and still do a normal week’s work. Also take the computer in for a complete wipe and reset.
  • Of course I could, given that computer wipe, start right up Monday morning after we got back with a full week of meetings, agendas, sermon writing, social media handling, and 3 doctor appointments.

Of course.

I set myself up for returning to the exact state I’d left rather than taking what I’d learned on the trip and putting it into practice. Fortunately, God stopped me in this nonsense before I could undo all the good.

I find myself asking the same questions post-vacation that I’ve pleaded with my congregation to ask themselves all year about life post-pandemic.

What kind of “normal” do you want to return to?

What are the best things you want to keep from this time?


How are you going to go about intentionally making sure you reboot life 2.0—the version you really want as an operating system?

New Normal

I want a normal that remembers—I matter, but I’m not indispensable.

The world can do without me for two weeks. Or longer.

Not that I don’t matter to my congregation and to others I interact with. However, I matter more to them whole and healthy, recognizing my role as facilitator and friend rather than savior or enabler. We’re partners—and that means free communal give and take, not one-sided offerings. 

It’s going back to relying on and respecting their God-given gifts. That’s taken a backseat during pandemic when stress was everyone’s worst passive aggressive friend. It’s time for a resurgence of trusting people and letting go the reins. If you, like me, have been grasping them a tad too tightly, slack up. Let people surprise you again with what God is giving them to share. 

I want to make available, not necessary, part of my new normal.

I want a normal that makes time for quiet wonder.

Snorkeling right in the face of penguins, sea lions, iguanas, and turtles does something to you. I’ve loved all of God’s wild creation since the day someone first put a book of ABC animals in my hands. That wonder tends to fade in our every day though, when we’re not close enough to a pelican to see its feathers ruffling in the moonlight.

Pandemic allowed my inner over-achiever to amp up the work level and ignore the rest of the world outside my home. I couldn’t leave the house anyway. Why not be more productive? 

Hiking and snorkeling every day required me to see with grateful eyes all the wonder of the world. Going face to face with a penguin or struggling up a volcano’s side reminded me that I’m part of a stunning creation. The author who set it in motion surely can give me what I need to do my work without me going at it 24/7. A grateful me surely will produce better work. 

I want to make awe, not achievement, part of my new normal.

In the future, I plan not to hyper-schedule the time around my full-on breaks. I’ll prepare with joyful anticipation rather than cramming all I can in the last few days. I’ll ease back in. I will refuse to feel guilty about that. It’s in the easing that we remember lessons learned and slowly apply them to a refreshed and possibly reoriented life. That takes time, and it’s equally as important as the vacation/sabbath itself. 

So no, I haven’t done all the things on the list in June. I’m going to enjoy the birds a little longer. Take a few more walks in my garden. Ease back into life so that maybe that easier way will become the pattern. Because you know what? Work isn’t life. All of life is life. I’d just forgotten. 

I want, plan, to make a whole, shalom life, not a piece by piece one, my new normal.

Minding My Business

Does it feel like a new year yet? I’m not sure. In some respects, we have hope this year we didn’t have a few months ago. A vaccine to end, or at least mitigate, our new reality hovers on the horizon. It trembles there, offering some measure of hope to what otherwise feels like a very old year already by February. My husband has received it, as a front line worker. I’m in group 3, and you can bet I’ll be in line.

On the other hand, January looked little different for many of us than did November or December or all the interminable months before them. We’re still here. Still isolating. Still waiting. The difference, of course, is that for those of us in the northern hinterlands, we can’t even go outside for a respite in January, and we have no holidays now for a looong time.

Left to our own devices, increasingly on our own, we develop coping skills or we wither, and personally, I’d much prefer to cope. One of the helpful things for me has been to learn a bit more mindfulness. I know—some of you have got this down like a pro. If you’re like me though, stopping to breathe isn’t really what you do.

We run from project to project, one checklist item to the next one. People like me are excited for the new year mostly because we get a new planner—a new place to write down all those ideas and goals. 

(Never underestimate the excitement of a new planner in my life. The perfect planner is akin to the holy grail for this 5.)

Mindfulness isn’t usually written in that planner. Neither is rest. Enter 2020. The year that finally (I hope) taught me that those things are not just good ideas—they’re survival. They’re also part of God’s perfect plan for us from the beginning.

We’re supposed to rest. We’re meant to breathe. God designed humans beings to sabbath—to STOP (literally, that’s what it means) and take time to notice our world.

So I have been learning to Stop. Pay attention. (Another very important word in the Bible–usually translated as “listen” or “hear.”.)

One of the things I’ve begun to do is sit in my chair in the morning and notice my senses. I take a few deep breaths and sink into the chair, closing my eyes, just paying attention to my small world. 

I notice the heat kick on. I give thanks for heat. 

I hear the tea kettle in the kitchen. I offer gratitude for a husband making me tea. That thought leads me to say a prayer for his patients that day, for their well-being and their families. 

I hear a cardinal chirp outside the window, and I am thankful God created birds, going so far as to create beautiful birds of vivid color and different design. Why? There was no need. But a creative God chose to give his people the gift of diversity on the wing.

Another day I might choose to focus on what I can smell. The licorice scent of Earl Grey steaming out of my tea mug. Oh, thank you for caffeine. And thank you for making it taste good in so many varieties. 

The smell of cat fur, as the little 7-pounder nestles into my lap, a place she finds comfort, and I find comfort and gratitude knowing a creature trusts me at that level. 

I can detect some lemongrass, so I give thanks for newly mopped floors. I think to pray for those living in refugee camps where keeping one’s home clean is a small comfort they had to leave behind, and concepts like “home” and “floor” now exist not as assumptions but hopes for the future.

These few moments of paying attention center me. They give me a morning “fix” of focus to begin a new day. After spending time quieting my mind and hearing my surroundings rather than my racing thoughts and ideas, I can hear the voice of God better. I’ve set aside my agenda long enough that God can get a word in edgewise.

I find this a good plan most days. My words are too many and too disjointed unless I’ve heard a word from God first. 

Science agrees. Mindfulness and centering give us mental focus for our day.

I’m offering this up not as a cure-all for 2021 but as one small thing I’ve found these last few months that help me center myself on where I need to be. Maybe you’re seeking some ways to focus yourself as well this new year. Small things. Baby steps. That’s all we may be able to handle right now, and thank you Lord, that’s often all we need.

That’s a Wrap

Rounding Up

We did a LOT of puzzles in 2020

Are we ready for a round up post? On February 1? Of course we are. Because we know:

1) I’m not usually on time for these sorts of things. 

And

2) You got inundated with that jazz last month, and now you actually have time to look at these things. 

See? I planned that out. So here we go. My favorite things of 2020. 

Five favorite books

OK, 7. Because choosing is hard, and I could have easily picked twelve.

I met my goodreads goal of 35! I know that’s not a ton, but 2020. I was tired. We were all tired. I spent the first third of the year finishing and defending my thesis. Plus also, I did a lot of puzzles. Finishing the goal is a win. It doesn’t matter what the goal was. I finished.

Let’s not waste our time moving goal posts on ourselves because we don’t think what we did was good enough. Not Spoiler: it was good enough. We made it.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee. Enough said. Truth – I’ve never read it. I’ve been a little major and an English teacher, and I have never read this book. Now I have, and now it has changed me. It makes me sad to see how much has not really changed. To see the world through the eyes of a child and to see her slow awakening to what people to what people are capable of, both good and bad, is enchantingly and devastatingly told.

From Burned Out to Beloved: Soul Care for Wounded Healers. Bethany D. Hiser. As a pastor and as a person who is constantly trying to save the world (is that redundant?), I found this work indispensable. Ms. Hiser helps people like me to pull back and to see ourselves. She helps us to equip others rather than to “save” them. In the process, we learn how to love and be blessed by our work rather than burned out. After the year we’ve just had, this is required reading for caregivers of any sort.

Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, Eugene Peterson. Peterson’s work is so challenging for pastors and so absolutely necessary. I needed this this year. Desperately. His whole section on rest and Sabbath is something I had been contemplating and wrestling with for a while, and this book blew it wide open.

Sabbath is a chance to let God do what God does best, without my interference. It’s my chance to join that after stopping long enough to see and to hear it.

The God Who Sees, Karen Gonzales. Gonzales puts the story of her family’s journey from Guatemala to the United States alongside the nomads of Scripture. The foreigners, those on the margins, those of whom God tells us to take special care. She explains to the reader God’s heart for those who find themselves on this journey and how we can make that struggle easier. I love the way she puts the stories together and the research she does into this very difficult issue. 

Talking to Strangers, Malcolm Gladwell. I will inherently love anything Gladwell writes. This book is quite timely, given our desperate need to hear what others are thinking and understand where they’re coming from. His exploration of how our different backgrounds and “languages” of communication affects the way we understand one another is fascinating. Gladewell is always a winner for me. He’s what I want to be when I grow up.

The Sun Does Shine, Anthony Ray Hinton. What can I even say? This man lost most of his life in prison. Why? Because, to summarize the words of those who arrested him, “they will convict any black man of the crime, and you are as good as any other.” It’s not just a story of one man’s injustice though. It’s a story of the relationships he made in prison and what all of us can learn from listening to those men alone in their cells. The relationship between the author and the klansman was so crazy and beautiful. This is one of the men you meet in the movie Just Mercy. You should meet him in this book, too.

Booked, Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior. As the Goodreads descriptions says, this book is for, “Anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.” Dr. Prior tells her memoir through literature, and this is so relatable to me. As a little girl who could never be torn away from a book, I could also tell my life through stories. Some of the stories she chooses could also be mine. I love the mingling of memoir and literature and life. This, too, is how I could explain out my life.

Five favorite recipes

Creamy Sun-dried Tomato Fettuccini Yes please. Pasta. Garlic. Sun-dried Tomatoes. The word “creamy.” It’s all there.

Cinnamon Roll Macarons. Hands down the best macarons I’ve ever made. Only I put chocolate ganache filling in, because who doesn’t’t love cinnamon and chocolate???

Vaca Frita de Pollo. One of the women in our church was making this while on zoom, and I NEEDED the recipe. It was all I dreamed of.

Chicken Normandy. Do it on a cold day when you have lots of time and want the most delicious chicken dinner you’ve ever had, possibly.

Za’atar Man’ouche. I saw this on a travel show and said—I need this in my life! And what do you know? Our kid had given us zaatar in a Christmas gift. Here you are. You’re welcome.

Thing I’m most proud to have made: Two of the kids gave me a Great British Bakeoff Book, and let me tell you, everything in it I’ve made is incredible. But this was quite the challenge.

Five favorite podcasts

2020 was not a good year for podcasts. I generally listen to them in the car, and, well, I didn’t spend much time in the car this year. Like, we saved a lot of money on gas, maintenance, and we should have just probably cancel the insurance. I hardly drove that thing. So I’ve been missing my podcasts. But these have been my favorites.

The Holy Post

Lead Stories

Revisionist History

The Bible Project

And a new one to add—Three Black Men

Five things I hope don’t go back to “normal.” 

That we learned to love the outdoors again. 

That we learned to slow down and live without the unnecessary things we thought were so important.

That we said “enough” to injustice and decided to change ourselves in order to change our culture. We also decided to stop engaging with the nonsense and just get to work.

That many of us came to appreciate in a new way those who keep the gears running and keep us safe. Healthcare workers, food workers, delivery drivers and sanitation workers. Those who bring my groceries to my door and those who hover over ICU patients, for 36 hours straight. Please, let us not forget. Oh and by the way, a lot of those people are immigrants.

That we learned to hold our people tightly and our plans loosely.

The thing that happened this year I desperately needed and didn’t know I did. Can you guess?

That’s it. That’s my round up. What about you? What were the things you loved about 2020? What are the things you’ll remember and take forward? I would love to hear.

Choosing Gratitude

Last time I talked about the difficulty in giving thanks during years like this one. Yet I know, from experience and from God’s word, that doing it anyway matters. Giving thanks anyway:

  • Reminds us that we do have much to be thankful for, even in hard times
  • Helps us find the small things and appreciate them
  • Gives us compassion for those with less to be thankful for
  • Heightens our awareness of everything around us, to notice the little joys
  • Boosts our mental health, as gratitude always does
  • Shows us the arc of God’s care for us, even when we weren’t looking or seeing
  • Is obedience, and that comes with its own peace.

So today, I’m going to look back at my gratitude journal in 2020 and list some of the things I wrote down. I hope you can find some, too. I admit, I’ve not been great at keeping this journal this year. But the act of doing it always brings me joy and peace. I highly recommend a gratitude journal. 

It doesn’t have to be preciously cute or Pinterest worthy. Mine is a solid red notebook my husband brought back from a medical convention. It says “American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery” on the front. You can see, I’m all fancy.

It’s such a good practice for our hearts and souls. Pick up a notebook form the dollar store, and start writing. I write three things a day. You do you. Here are some great ideas and options in case you need them.

If you want some ways to get creative and make it super fun, I love the ideas of bookending and decorating, talked about here.

And if you want to hear the whole TED talk about gratitude the above article mentions, view it here.

So here’s random list of 20 things I’ve written since April.

  • Coyotes looking at me in the backyard, while I’m on a zoom meeting (Yes. It happened.)
  • I’m learning new patterns of kindness
  • I don’t worry people will kill my white children
  • Garden art
  • Hamilton (How lucky we are to be alive right now!)
  • My new home office
  • The fun quotes I made and framed in my new office, like the one below.
  • Hummingbird feeders
  • Crickets in my house (I love them. I’m not sorry.)
  • The ability to learn new things (hello, zoom church)
  • Morning fog 
  • My husband home longer in the mornings (his gym at work where he went early is COVID closed)
  • Clean mopped floors
  • Almond tea
  • Daughters who decorate my house for my virtual graduation
  • That graduation! That dissertation DONE!
  • People who put the dishes away
  • Quiet mornings on the deck
  • Early morning sunlight filtering through the trees
  • The privilege of white skin, and the responsibility
  • New followers!

That’s a short list. You can see it’s pretty varied. Some big things. Some little things. Some serious and some just plain fun. In this year of hard, find the small things that give you joy. Write them down. Go back to that as often as you need to. Feed your soul on joy.

You are loved.

Drop 4 Anchors

I wrote this blog post in 2018. I went looking for it this morning, because I believe there are definitely some of you who are not coming to Thanksgiving this year with joy in your hearts and thanks on your lips. How could you, given the dumpster fire of 2020? But maybe it’s affected you personally in a deeply painful way. Unemployment. Death. Long illness. Financial distress. Racial tension. Fear for your black sons and daughters. A society that refuses to hear your pain and fear.

I don’t know what it is for you this year, but I know this. The anchor holds. So here is a repeat post from 2018.

I approached Thanksgiving two years ago feeling less than thankful. With a body dematerializing before everyone’s eyes for reasons no one could diagnose, I entered the season sick, exhausted, and scared. I could barely get up most days, and when I did, it seemed everyone was posting their “What I’m thankful for” on Facebook.

It had been six months since I got sick. It would be almost another year before we discovered why. How do you lead people in thanksgiving when you spend your days begging the Lord to heal you, to help you find out what’s wrong, or at least to allow you to get a meal down and feel good for five minutes a day?

I reached for a little-known line in Scripture for answers: “. . . they were afraid we would soon be driven against the rocks along the shore, so they threw out four anchors from the back of the ship and prayed for daylight” (Acts 27:29 NLT).

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Back story: Paul is in danger of being shipwrecked here. The men with him are terrified. They aren’t thankfully posting pictures of their holiday at sea; they’re crying out for mercy. “All hope was gone,” Scripture says (Acts 21:20 NLT).

All hope was gone.

I knew the feeling.

The last line of the tale shone like a beacon in my own storm. Sometimes, I realized, we can’t see through the storm, and the best thing we can do is toss our anchors and pray for daylight. Anchors keep a ship stable. When they dig into the seabed below, they hold. It may be chaos up above, but when the anchor is dropped, the ship won’t drift.

There are likely many of you who feel guilty because you are harboring less-than-thankful feelings this thanksgiving. Sadly, guilt drives us farther from the God who is the only hope when all hope is gone. Guilt isn’t an anchor—guilt is a gale blowing us off course. We may not see ahead, but we can know what’s written on our anchors.

Anchor #1—God is good

We toss around “good” all the time. It’s all good. I’m good. She’s being good. But in Scripture, the word “good” means something more. “Good” is a mix of just, holy, gentle, kind, patient, and merciful. Biblical goodness is an anchor because it can never change. God cannot stop being good. He will always be unfailing love, faithfulness, and compassion.

“Good” is also a verb. God doesn’t just have good feelings toward us—He makes good happen. So saying that God’s goodness is an anchor is knowing his power is bent on kindness toward us. Maybe we can’t see it, but we can feel it hold us in chaos.

Photo by Nias Nyalada on Unsplash

Anchor #2—God is love

When the doctor asked my husband nine years ago if he would donate his kidney to me, I knew the answer. He would say yes. His character was to love me as he had promised—in sickness and health. It did not hinge on me deserving it; it was who he was.

How do I know God’s love is an anchor I can trust in darkness? It’s his character, proved by his actions. Do I doubt his love? If I do, I have only to look at the cross where he died alone in agony. There is no greater proof of love.

Maybe you don’t feel it right now, but God’s love is an anchor that will not let go of the bottom of the sea. It will be there until the light of morning.

Anchor #3—God is able

“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand” (Isa. 41.10 NLT).

I gave birth three times, each time willing to battle the world and all its forces to keep safe the little life in my womb and later in my arms. God is no different when it comes to his children—he is only infinitely more capable.

Imagine this: you are surrounded by the hands that formed the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Ocean, Mount Everest, the Grand Canyon, and every atom of the human body. God is able. No matter how badly the sea shakes, that anchor holds.

Anchor #4—God is enough

The summer before I turned nineteen was rough. Having lost my mom, I returned home from school to a suicidal, alcoholic father. One of my best friends killed himself. I was in a terrible car accident. All the while I sang in a group that praised God in the evenings while I questioned him during the day.

One of those evenings, I realized I had a choice. I could walk away forever, or I could believe that no matter what else happened, God would be enough. Even if I ended up like Job, losing everything, I would not let go if he was all I had. It was a hard anchor to toss, but it held. It’s held through worse crises than that, and I expect it will continue.

I didn’t feel like praising God that Thanksgiving. Maybe you don’t right now. Don’t feel guilty for not being able to dredge up feelings of thanks. Drop your anchors. You don’t have to feel them to know they’re there. Pray for daylight. I’ll pray alongside you.

A Simple Life

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I’m a Baby Boomer. I raised three Millennials. Not one person in our house is a Gen Xer, although my husband and my son-in-law both missed it by merely a year on either side.

We do not know what it’s like to be the overlooked middle child.

Both of our generations have been marketed to, catered to, had all our whims analyzed and fulfilled, as a giant generation would. Other than the job market after college for both, we’ve had it pretty good.

Poor Gen X

Gen X, on the other hand, gets ignored. I guess that can be OK. As the youngest child of seven, I found getting ignored pretty useful when I wished to fly under the radar. Still do.

The generation between let’s-begin-God’s-people-patriarch Abraham and had-way-too-many-kids-and-wives Jacob feels a lot like the Gen X of Genesis.

Isaac and Rebekah don’t get much press.

You’ll find the story in Genesis 24. Abraham wants his son to marry in his family and to a woman who worships his God, not one nearby. So his servant saddles up the camels and travels 500 miles to find Isaac a wife.

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To be clear, this is the camel. Not the wife. Photo by Andre Iv on Unsplash

Enter Rebekah. TL;DR version: he meets her and her family, tells them she’s the one to marry Isaac, they all agree it seems right, and then he tosses a curveball—they all must decide this NOW because he’s leaving tomorrow.

Her mother objects. What mother wouldn’t? She knows she will never see her child again. How can she say a forever good-bye with less than 24-hours notice? Then they do something remarkable for the time—they ask Rebekah.

“We’ll call Rebekah and ask her what she thinks.” So they called Rebekah. “Are you willing to go with this man?” they asked her. And she replied, “Yes, I will go.”

Wife Material

Clearly, this is an adventurous, curious, faith-filled, daring young woman who has a streak of independence. Maybe they knew they would have to ask her or she wouldn’t have it. Maybe she’s been waiting for a chance like this. The text seems to indicate that perhaps she has stayed single for longer than usual, and since she’s beautiful and her family has money, this was surely her choice.

I already like Rebekah.

She gives up so much—her entire family—to travel a great distance to a strange place and a strange man. Is Isaac old? Ugly? Missing teeth and oozing something? Does he already have four wives? Does he (shudder) write “your” when he means “you’re”? She has no clue. The servant’s kind nature and honest, earnest appearance are all she has to go on.

Yet without hesitation, she answers. God is in it. Yes, I will go.

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Photo by Jack Anstey on Unsplash

Short story—she goes. They marry. They love til death do them part. They have two sons, who create their whole ‘nother drama. But for the most part, Rebekah, after her giant leap unto the unknown (yes, you may sing a Frozen song here), lives a quiet, ordinary, unremarkable life.

  • She isn’t sold into slavery in Egypt.
  • She doesn’t bear a child at 90.
  • She doesn’t mother the entire nation of Israel.
  • She doesn’t build an ark.
  • She doesn’t lead an army or slay a giant or save her nation from a despot king and his henchman.

She never even goes far from home (again).

She raises two kids and teaches one to cook.

They are the original Gen X.

Wasn’t this all anti-climatic?
Wasn’t Rebekah disappointed?

Did the giant leap fall flat?

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Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

Where was the grand adventure?

I think Rebekah would say—it was in obedience.

The leap of faith never promised great fame. It didn’t assure her sword fights and dizzying escapades. She wasn’t asked to do something amazing. She was asked to obey. So she did.

The adventure was not having a clue what was ahead and saying “yes” anyway. That takes more guts than a sword fight any day.

One of my favorite fictional characters is Eowyn, the maiden of Rohan who is certain she was born for adventure and renown (and she was) but who desperately fears she will never be allowed to reach her destiny because she is a woman. Women don’t gain valor. (Well, she has a point.)

Eowyn learns, by the end, what the hobbits always knew—it is no bad thing to celebrate an ordinary life. Sometimes, the most ordinary of people do the most extraordinary things—even if they’re living their normal lives.

Rebekah seems to know this. She faithfully lives out her days, knowing her obedience brought her exactly where she was meant to be.

I could learn a few things from Rebekah.

  • Maybe the life we’re living is our adventure.
  • Maybe where we are right now is our calling.
  • Maybe obedience is the greatest thing no matter where it leads us.
  • Maybe we need to find gratitude and joy in ordinary life.
  • Maybe it’s the next generation who will matter more than I, and that seemed OK to Rebekah.

Ordinary is its own definition—normal. Most of us are by definition.

Ordinary lives are the backbone of most of the world. The ark-builders and giant-slayers wouldn’t survive without the ordinary ones.

And here’s what I want to remember from Rebekah—

God celebrates ordinary lives of extraordinary obedience. (1)

God celebrates ordinary lives of extraordinary obedience.

Seems right. Average people are what he made the most of. He must truly delight in it.

Learning from Cain we talked about competition and how unholy and unhelpful it can get. If we take a page from Rebekah, we see something else. Competing makes zero sense when God delights in our obedience, period. There’s no competition to obey. In fact, I’d say the field is pretty open. So a heart and mind concentrating on obeying hasn’t much space to look around at how others are doing and ramp up the resume.

I know. I’m lousy at this, too.

Some folks do make it a reason to sit out their life and allow their fear of failure to keep them out of their calling. That’s not what I’m suggesting. Radical obedience, though, will always lead us toward our calling. It simply might not be what we expected.

Rebekah is OK with that. Are we?

Losing Time

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Photo by Jaelynn Castillo on Unsplash

In elementary school I had a trick I used to impress friends and others whom I desperately wanted to impress. I would jump into the air and land, on the sidewalk, on my bum, with knees together sideways and feet turned out. It sounds confusing, but it was impressive, trust me. Especially with the sidewalk element—kind of like tightrope walking without a net. I had the shock and awe factor down back in third grade.

In junior high, I won a toe-sucking contest at my best friend’s sleepover. You read that right. I managed to put my big toe in my mouth and keep it there longer than anyone else. Way longer. It wasn’t even difficult.

Do not ask me why we did this. I do not know whose idea it was or why we all complied, like the lemmings most junior high girls are. I only know I won an event that has very few bragging rights, since no one really wants to admit they excelled at a toe-sucking contest. Except, apparently, me. In my defense, it was junior high, and 1) Junior high humans do very, very strange things, plus 2) This was a pretty tame strange thing as far as junior high humans go.

In high school I wanted to be a cheerleader, and I had the required flexibility, obviously, but I lacked the voice. They told me I couldn’t yell loudly enough or project enough energy, and I bristled at that judgment then. Now, I know it was spot on. Who has the energy to yell over trivial things? Not this INFJ/Enneagram 5. Extraverts and 7’s, this is your territory. Be you.

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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

My body told me decades before doctors did that it had some unusual qualities; I just thought they were normal.

Learning I have EDS (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome) this past year has been one of the biggest jourenys-you-don’t-want-to-go-on of my life. I love traveling—but not this time. Sure, I’ve had it all my life and didn’t know it. Yes, I’ve been quite fortunate that the symptoms have only forced themselves into my life in the past couple years. Definitely, many, many people have it far worse. Nevertheless, those symptoms are a pain. Literally.

For those unfamiliar, I try to describe it this way. It’s like your joints don’t have brakes. When other peoples’ bodies tell them, “Whoa there, elbow, pull back a little. You’re going too far too fast,” mine don’t. They sit back and think, “Hey, can’t wait to see how far this will go without disaster. Hand me the popcorn.”

Everything goes too far; everything stretches too much; everything hurts. Yoga teachers are impressed. My physical therapist is not.

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Photo by David Charles Schuett on Unsplash

Most days I fight it. Some days I’m too tired. This is OK.

Often, I struggle because slow is not my groove. I walk fast, work fast, pack my calendar because fast works for me. Except now, walking fast could get my splayed on the ground with an injury, and I walk slowly, watching every sidewalk irregularity and holding on to every stair rail. I have to leave spaces in that datebook, empty whites places where blue ink used to fill, because feet up time is now at least as important as feet on the ground.

It irks me, because it’s not me.

I try to find the grace in the trade-off. And it’s there. This morning, the pink sunrise filtered through the treetops on my way home from dropping my offspring at the train station for work. I got home and wrote a haiku about it. I don’t write poetry. I’m pretty bad at it. Something in the morning told me I could, though, and that something, I think is the time I’ve lost being fast.

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It seems antithetical, losing time by being fast. But I have. I‘ve lost the present. I’ve lost the ability to sit with the now and not make plans for the not yet. I’ve squanderer  the moments in favor of the days. I’ve said “I don’t have time” so much that I believe it, even though who doesn’t have time for loved ones and silent hugs and sparkling eyes that want to tell you everything going on in their universe?

I’ve lived in the “going to” so much I’ve lost touch with the “is”—the pink of sunrise being combed out by tree fingers in the sky. I’m finding that I like the “is,” and perhaps that’s a gift of this inherited disease. It’s certainly a grace.

That’s one of the reasons my word for 2020 is “Listen.” Followed closely by “Observe.” I loathe passivity, in grammar and in life, but perhaps it’s time to embrace a bit of it. To sit, to watch, to hear, to be present.

Unlike everything else, it can’t hurt.

Thanks, Dad

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The Field of Honor flags hang still as I walk among them, their stripes melded together with not a hint of breeze to break the humid, stifling July early evening. Yesterday, they fluttered and flew. Today, nothing. I wish they would, walking between poles in the slightly curved display of hundreds of flags.

It would be a better photo op, at least.

A few years ago, I zip tied these flags to the poles, along with a couple dozen other volunteers in the VFW multi-purpose room. I purchased one for my dad. I thought he would be proud to have his name there, giving passing people the chance to thank him for what he had done long ago on a ship in the South Pacific.

I toured that ship last summer. I walked the same decks he had as a boy in 1944. Yes, a boy he certainly was. Sixteen year old—probably the age of one of the cafeteria servers in the black and white photos that hung in the bowels of the ship-turned-museum. For all I knew, that photo was my dad. I didn’t know what he looked like at sixteen. I didn’t know what he had done on that ship.

I don’t know how much of his choice to enlist resulted from patriotism and how much stemmed from a deep desire to get away from home. Regardless, for two years that teenaged boy who would be my father walked those decks, heard those guns, ducked enemy fire, and committed acts of both bravery and horror of which he never, ever spoke.

Maybe the flags hang silent for a reason.

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For the first time in the twenty-two years we’ve lived in our little community, I didn’t march in the July 4th parade. (Technically, it’s July 3rd here, but who wants to be technical?) I heard the celebration from my backyard, the usual pre-parade chaos of sirens and drums, not quite ready for prime time. I usually heard it from a much closer proximity.

I’ve walked that parade route as a 4H volunteer, a community theater board member, and, most recently, as a library participant. Possibly as a garden club member, too, tossed in one year for fun. I’ve walked it in rain and in scorching heat. Once, we walked it in a thunderstorm, but that disbanded quickly, and I spent a couple hours locating my children who had fled the 4H float and taken refuge in that same VFW hall.

It seems community can’t get rid of me here. Part of me missed the chaos and camaraderie; part of me appreciated the relative quiet and definitely the air conditioning.

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Seventy-five years ago, my dad stepped on a ship that must have been the largest structure that southern-Illinois-bred boy had ever seen, sporting a new buzz cut and a uniform doubtless too big. He fought a regime that only believed in human dignity insofar as the humans looked like white northern Europeans and thought like they were instructed. Which means, they didn’t think. They chose to look away. They chose to scapegoat their personal fears and woes. They chose to excavate multiple reasons why what was happening must be so. It had to be a deep dig.

There is nothing, nothing on the face of this earth or in heaven, that justifies treating an image of God as anything less than that. We must dig far to find those things, because they do not lie anywhere easy in God’s good world.

A few years ago, I bought that flag and its memorial, waterproof pouch for my dad, and they put his name on it. They printed the years he served the US Navy, 1944-46, and I remembered that pouch when I walked the metal stairs and touched the cold bunks of the USS Iowa. What he did there died with him, but I knew he had grown up quickly in those years, and I knew he understood why he had gone.

This year, I chose not to walk the parade, because I could not step in time to a theme of “Let Freedom Ring” when it does not and is not for so many. When boys my father’s age on that boat are in cages and babies have to defend themselves in court. When parents who only want their children to live have them stolen instead. When people die because they dreamed of freedom, and even to request it was denied.

I wanted to, but I couldn’t.

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I think that choice also honored my dad. Dad believed in fairness. He believed in treating humans as fellow humans. He believed in fighting evil and naming it for what it was, even if that fight for him began more as a way to leave his parents’ difficult home than as a declaration of human rights. He believed Teddy Roosevelt.

He had seen what happens when we look away.

Thank You, Baby Boomers

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Photo by James Baldwin on Unsplash

As part of our ongoing conversation about generational divides, my Millennial daughter and I have written some posts praising the positive.

Last week, I wrote on why I’m grateful for Millennials. This week, Emily is returning the favor. Because she’s so nice like that.

I Am Thankful for Your Solidity

We may harp and complain about how stubborn and old-fashioned you are, but I also appreciate how decisive you are. You know who you are, you know how you got where you are, and you don’t really give a spritz cookie about what anyone else may think.

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Photo by Tommy Lisbin on Unsplash

I Am Thankful for Your Drivenness

You aren’t going to step back so easily in the face of anything from adversity to new technology. You will analyze new situations to determine how they might affect you negatively or positively, and you don’t let failures define you. You live in positivity.

I Am Thankful for Our Privacy

Technology has made privacy a difficult ideal, but one that is still important. You fight for privacy rights, even if you personally get nothing out of it.

I Am Thankful for the Hippies

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Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash

So we might idealize Hippies more than we should, but we admire that ideal inside of you. It is largely in part to your protests that we have such a different outlook on war and peace today. Plus also, some great music came out of the movement.

I Am Thankful For Your Ability to Relax

You guys know how to have a good time with friends. Those whom you allow into your busy lives you hold onto for years and years. You find joy in gathering together that same group for events and parties and everyone loves showing up and investing in each other’s stories.

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Photo by anja. on Unsplash

BONUS: I Am Thankful That You Changed Our Poopy Pants. Most Millennials had parents who fell within the Baby Boomer years. So…yeah. Thanks for that.

Surprised by Peace

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May is my favorite month. I gaze out the kitchen window at the brilliant pink crabapple trees standing over blushing tulips. Lilacs come into the house in bunches. Bikes come out for long rides, during which we smell morning rain over the forest preserve prairie. Sound carefree? Don’t let it fool you. This kind of peace doesn’t come easy in May. It’s also my craziest month.

 

When our oldest daughter got married two years ago, I informed my other two daughters they had to follow suit and keep all the family weddings in May. We could all go away for one big weekend to celebrate four anniversaries, one birthday, and Mother’s Day.

What’s the answer to craziness that threatens to steal our peace? Click on to the rest of this post at The Glorious Table to find out.